If you have been keeping up on my blogs, you know wildlife has been front and center during the larger part of my island adventure thus far. Between mice, lizards, chickens, crabs, and the many colorful reef fish, I have truly bore witness to the good, bad, and the ugly of this island. However, just as I would have never anticipated seeing mice inside my hotel room on Seven Mile Beach, I also never anticipated what I am about to share with you in today’s blog. Keep reading for an exciting installment of Island Diaries by Kate.
You could say I am becoming something of a snorkeling enthusiast. I actually went to somewhere other than the supermarket to purchase a new mask and flippers. They still are not what you would call the top shelf when it comes to snorkel gear, but they are a step up from where we started. Anyway, I have been doing a bit of research online on what spots on the island offer the best snorkeling conditions – pretty reefs, lots of marine life, safe for beginners, etc. One such place is Eden Rock that can be accessed from Eden Rock Diving Center in the center of Georgetown. They rent scuba and diving gear but anyone can go there with their own equipment and use their ladders for water access. This is where I decided to go one Monday afternoon around 3 or 4 pm. I swam out about 5 minutes from the shore toward the buoys and quickly found myself in an underwater maze of coral formations, dark, eerie caves, and impressive drop offs. I was surrounded by a wide array of fish, some more intimidating than others. Barracudas and tarpon, as cool as they are, are still not my favorite sea critters to hang with. But they do take my breath away when they enter my field of vision.
With no real end-goal or sense of time, I flippered aimlessly, suspended over the stunning coral formations. I peered down into the dark crevices and grottos with a twinge of unease as I imagined what could be lurking in their depths. Can you imagine that people willingly swim down into those passages? There are freedivers who even go without oxygen. I can’t even watch that play out in the movies. I still feel a sense of panic when I think about that scene in Miss Congeniality two when Gracie is trying to save Cheryl and Stan from the sinking Treasure Island pirate ship and they all go like 10 minutes without breathing somehow.
As I was swimming, I could see a point in the distance where the coral dropped off and formed a deep and dramatic cliff. I neared its edge and marveled at the contrast of the jagged coral and the smooth sand some 30 feet down. I ended up being very grateful for this space that separated myself and the sand below. As I scanned the ocean floor, my eyes caught something dark and rather large. A barracuda? Another massive tarpon? An inoffensive sea turtle? No, no, and no. Kate… that is a goddamn shark.
I froze. I yelped into my scuba mouthpiece. All alone, “far” from shore, just me and the shark. This is where an experienced snorkeler would have gotten excited or curious and stayed to investigate and take in the scene. This is also where I, Kate, someone who can count the amount of snorkel sessions she has completed one one hand, booked it out of there as quickly and stealthily as humanly possible. Before turning to flee, I was able to make out the shape and size of the shark. It wasn’t huge but it was significant in size. It had a wide head and long body, maybe 5 o r 6 feet. My brain did what it could to record a mental image but all my energy was focused on “escaping.”
My flippers started pumping, my freestyle arms were put into action (thanks Reedsburg Raging Rapids for preparing me for this day), but I didn’t want to draw attention to myself. I swam smoothly and quickly, constantly checked over my shoulder to ensure this aqua beast was not actively pursuing my human flesh. Of course, this shark most likely did not even see me and if it had, it would not have been the least bit interested in eating me. But try telling that to sole-snorkeler Kate who had been immersed in anti-shark jaws culture from a very young age. The Kate who is scared of swimming alongside muskies. On my way back to shore, about a 5 minute swim with flippers, a couple more barracuda darted in front of my strokes and I mentally communicated to them “don’t f*ck me with me guys, I am very fragile right now.”
Finally, I made it back to the ladder, climbed up, and saw another group of snorkelers. I went to chat with them and timidly broached the subject of sharks. “Oh yes, of course. Many sharks have been spotted in this area.” As if it were the most obvious and well-known fact. “In fact, someone just spotted a hammerhead here the other day.” I described to them what I saw and they responded with “Wow, you are so lucky!” What? Did they say lucky? What are these people smoking?
After the conversation with the other snorkelers and a little search on Google, I tried to figure out which shark it was that I saw at Eden Rock. Honestly, it very well could have been a hammerhead as I noted how wide its head was and its overall size. However, It is probably more likely that it was a nurse shark which is commonly spotted around coral reefs. While these two types of shark look nothing alike, my memory is already so warped from this little traumatic siting that I honestly couldn’t tell you for sure. Next time, I will bring my GoPro and try to capture one on camera!
You may be thinking, “What? You’re going back there?” On my frantic swim back to the shore I thought the same thing, that I would never go snorkeling there again. But after a bit of research, it is clear to see that these sharks are not dangerous. As long as you don’t do anything stupid like try to feed them or touch them, you are more than fine to share the reef space with them. While I was mightily terrified by this experience, I also felt excitement and exhilaration. I totally get the appeal. While snorkeling (and hopefully one day while diving), I totally lose sense of time and stream of thought. It is as if I am operating solely on instinct and curiosity…just like a fish! I am exploring an underwater world that would otherwise be completely unknown to me. I have to understand that if I want to be a part of that world, I have to accept that sharks are sometimes included in the deal (but only for the lucky ones!) 😉
Thanks for reading and keep swimming people!